Chapter 10
Readability in Drafting

  1. The Question of Audience
  2. Order and Organization
  3. Headnotes
  4. Section, Subdivision, and Paragraph Length
  5. Person
  6. Number
  7. Voice
  8. Tense
  9. "Shall" and "Must"
  10. Sentence Length
  11. Intrusive Phrases and Clauses
  12. Conditions and Exceptions
  13. Provisos
  14. Sentences within Sentences
  15. Parallel Form
  16. Modifiers
  17. "And" and "Or"
  18. Tables
  19. Computations
  20. Consistent Terms
  21. Definitions
  22. Familiar Words
  23. Obsolete or Vague Terms
  24. Wordy Expressions
  25. Overdrafting
  26. Jargon
  27. Noun Strings
  28. Initials
  29. Nominal Style
  30. Gender-Neutral Language

This chapter is about readability or "plain language" issues in bills. It is not about substantive clarity, which is outlined in chapter 2, or about form or mechanics, which are treated in chapters 4 and 12. Its aim is to review current thinking on what makes bills hard, or easy, to read.

A glance at section 2 of the bibliography will show how much material there is about readability in legal documents. In most cases, researchers agree about what writers should do, but not in all cases. So this chapter gives drafters general advice, but it also refers them to other works for further examples and discussion.

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1. The Question of Audience

Bills are not all aimed at the same readers. Rather, the primary audience of bills varies with the bill. If your bill regulates migrant labor and orders recruiters and employers to put workers' terms in writing, then employers, recruiters, and workers are your audience, some with limited education. On the other hand, if you are drafting a bill regulating securities sales, then brokers and bankers are your audience, and your bill will have to use the technical vocabulary of their trade. Laws addressed to people in general--for example, laws prohibiting dumping in state parks--ought to aim at people of average intelligence and average education.

Writing for a less knowledgeable audience means that you must work hard at keeping sentences short and eliminating or defining difficult words. But writing for a knowledgeable audience does not give you an excuse to write long, unwieldy sentences. For sophisticated readers you may be able to be briefer; you can pack information into specialized words. For other readers your material must be less dense. See Child, Drafting Legal Documents, p. 7 and 8; Charrow and Erhardt, Clear and Effective Legal Writing, p. 39-56; Dickerson, Fundamentals, p. 26-31.


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2. Order and Organization

The preferable arrangement of provisions within a bill varies with each bill but, regardless of the type of bill, they should be arranged in a logical order.

You should probably put definitions first and basic provisions before special cases, but for everything else you're free to use one of several patterns.

Chronological order works especially well in bills that describe procedures. For example, a section regulating employers' treatment of migrant workers might tell what employers must do at several stages of the work season:

Using chronological order may mean preferring one audience to another. For example, bills governing prisons affect not only prisoners but prison workers who must comply with the law and agency workers who have to check compliance. There is no particular order to obeying these laws. It might be best to decide on a convenient order for inspection and to order sections that way. If food service, health equipment, and sanitation will be checked together, laws governing them should be next to one another.

Not all chronological order is this obvious. It may take some discussion and reflection to decide what the order of sections should be.

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3. Headnotes

Headnotes for sections and subdivisions are not part of the law, except in the Uniform Commercial Code, but they are very valuable to readers when they are written well. Their function is to help readers find the material they need. Subdivision headnotes are especially important in long sections, because a reader who has only a section number needs them to help narrow the search.

See Redish, Beyond Readability, p. 9; Felker, et al., Guidelines, p. 17-19; Charrow and Erhardt, Clear and Effective Legal Writing, p. 83-86.

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4. Section, Subdivision, and Paragraph Length

The more material you place in a single block, the harder it is for readers to find the particular provisions they are interested in. Long, solid blocks of text also make it more difficult to keep one's place in reading. To make reading easier, try to limit the length of unbroken passages.


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5. Person

Drafters need to compromise between the needs of statutory drafting and the requirements of plain English. Most plain English contract laws call for the use of the second and first person--addressing the consumer as "you" and calling the provider "we." Using "we" and "you" is impractical in bills which have to deal with several different sets of people and their duties at once. Write in terms of "the commissioner," "the department," and so on.


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6. Number

Use the singular form of a noun rather than the plural. This custom is based on the practical difficulty of using plurals consistently. See section 2.2.


Use: A person who....

Do not use: All persons who....


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7. Voice

What is passive voice? A sentence is in the active voice when the subject "does" the verb: "Agencies publish rules in the State Register," is in the active voice. "Rules are published in the State Register by agencies" is in the passive voice because the subject rules is not the doer of the verb are published. The doer shows up in by agencies. "Rules are published in the State Register" is still in the passive voice, although the doer of the action does not show up at all. Another way to recognize passive voice is to look for the verbs be, is, are, was, were, has been, have been, and had been followed by words that end in -ed, -t, or -en. Here are some examples:

is taken
must be arithmetically averaged
are taught
have been reduced

Clauses or sentences that contain verbs like these are in the passive voice.

What's wrong with passive voice? In laws and rules, passive sentences without phrases containing "by" are dangerous because they do not say what duties are assigned to whom. Wydick's Plain English for Lawyers demonstrates the problem with this sentence from a patent license:

All improvements of the patented invention which are made hereafter shall promptly be disclosed, and failure to do so shall be deemed a material breach of this license agreement.

Nothing in the sentence tells us who must disclose improvements to whom. If rules and laws exist to explain people's responsibilities, then drafters must avoid sentences that don't assign responsibilities clearly.

When is the passive voice needed? Voice lets you put old or repeated information at the beginning of the sentence where it demands less attention and new information at the end of the sentence where it stands out.

The indictment, information, or affidavit must charge the person with having committed a crime. It must be authenticated by the executive authority making the demand.

Passive voice can also let you put a long string of nouns at the end of a sentence so that your reader will not have to work through the series before coming to the verb:

The application may be made by the prosecuting attorney of the county in which the offense was committed, the parole board, or the chief executive officer of the facility or sheriff of the county from which the person escaped.

Sometimes passive voice will help you avoid using he or she.

When you use passive voice for any of these reasons, be certain that the duty or permission is assigned clearly, either in the passive sentence or in one of the sentences nearby.

When is the passive voice unnecessary? When the passive voice does not solve these specific problems, it is probably unneeded. When a sentence contains a phrase beginning with by ("by the commissioner") and that phrase is not at the end of the sentence, you can safely change the sentence to active voice.

Passive: The required monitoring frequency may be reduced by the commissioner to a minimum of one sample analyzed for total trihalomethanes per quarter.

Active: The commissioner may reduce the required monitoring frequency to a minimum of one sample analyzed for total trihalomethanes per quarter.

Passive: When a demand is made upon the governor of this state by the executive authority of another state for the surrender of a person charged with crime....

Active: When the executive authority of another state demands that the governor of this state surrender a person charged with crime....

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8. Tense

A drafter is tempted to look forward to the time when the statute will be applied and, therefore, to frame legislation in the future tense. Avoid that error. Use the present tense and write the statute as you want it to read at the time it is applied.

Use: A person who drinks intoxicating liquors or uses profane language on any passenger railway car is guilty....

Do not use: A person who shall drink intoxicating liquors or shall use profane language...shall be guilty....


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9. "Shall" and "Must"

Some readability experts have criticized the lawyer's use of shall as a verb of command, and have encouraged drafters to use must to express commands and requirements. Others defend the use of shall. See section 2.2 and Redish, "How to Write Regulations (and Other Legal Documents) in Clear English," Drafting Documents in Plain Language 1981, p. 253.

Objections to the use of must include the following:

  1. It is difficult to use consistently.

  2. It is another alternative verb to keep track of.

  3. Must lacks the dignified assurance of shall.

While some drafting experts recommend the use of shall in the active voice and must in the passive, and try to distinguish carefully between duties of people and requirements for things, in practice these distinctions become blurred. For drafters who use must, a simple rule is to use must for duties, must not for prohibitions (may not is potentially ambiguous), and may for permissions. When choosing which verb to use, the context is very important. If the drafter is amending a body of existing law that uses "shall" the alternative "must" should not be introduced, and vice versa.

For definitions, use means. For stative provisions (also called "self-enforcing provisions" or "provisions true by operation of law") use is or are. For examples of the distinctions, see Dickerson, Materials on Legal Drafting, p. 180-185.

For advice about special situations like creating a crime or establishing an agency, see Robert J. Martineau, Drafting Legislation and Rules in Plain English, p. 109-110.

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10. Sentence Length

Sentences in the law are often long, and they seem to grow longer every time they are amended. Long sentences are not necessarily difficult in themselves, but length often goes along with other evils. The longer the sentence, the more likely it is that the reader will have to ask: What parts go together? What does this modifier modify? Which of these clauses and phrases are parallel? To avoid confusion, drafters should write short sentences when possible, and give long sentences clear structure. The sections and readings that follow suggest some methods of shortening or clarifying long sentences.

See: Dickerson, Fundamentals, p. 174, 182-183. Charrow and Erhardt, Clear and Effective Legal Writing, p. 95-100.

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11. Intrusive Phrases and Clauses

Most sentences in bills have verbs with more than one part: shall + (verb), may + (verb), must + (verb), and so on. Sometimes a word is placed between these parts, as in "the commissioner shall immediately order an investigation of a reported epidemic."

One-word adverbs in this position do no harm; sometimes they are necessary. But longer divisions are difficult to read, as in this sentence:

Within ten days after service of the notice of appeal, the appealing party shall in writing, with a copy to the executive secretary of the Public Employment Relations Board and all parties or their representatives of record, order from the Bureau of Mediation Services a transcript of any parts of the proceedings it deems necessary...

The interrupting words make no sense without the verb order, but the reader must struggle through 20 words to reach it. The interrupting words would serve better as a separate sentence:

...the appealing party shall order from the Bureau of Mediation Services a transcript of any parts of the proceedings it considers necessary. The transcript order must be in writing. The appealing party shall give a copy of the transcript order to the executive secretary of the Public Employment Relations Board and all parties or their representatives of record.

The same advice holds in other places in the sentence as well: avoid interrupting any group of words that must be understood together.

See Charrow and Erhardt, Clear and Effective Legal Writing, p. 100-102.

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12. Conditions and Exceptions

One of the most common functions of a statute is to set forth a simple, general proposition, subject to certain conditions and exceptions. Even when a proposed statutory section is drafted for introduction with few or no conditions or exceptions, conditions and exceptions are often added by amendment during the legislative process. The more conditions and exceptions that apply, the longer and more complex the statute becomes. One of the challenges to the drafter is to organize the statute so that the general proposition remains clear while conditions and exceptions are added to it, one after another, without needing to rewrite the whole statute each time.

If only one condition applies, the usual way to express it is to begin the sentence with an if or when clause: "If the person under arrest refuses to permit chemical testing, none may be given." Use if or when, not the legalism where.

Sometimes more than one condition introduces a sentence. When this happens, keep the main clause as short as possible:

If the basic member and the surviving dependent spouse are killed in a common disaster, and the total of all survivor's benefits paid under this subdivision is less than the accumulated deductions plus interest payable, the surviving children shall receive the difference in a lump sum payment.

If you can't keep the main clause short, or if there are more than two conditions, put the conditions after the main clause:

The city is eligible for a proportional share of the subsidy provided for the counties if the city has a population of 40,000 persons or more; has a board of health organized under Minnesota Statutes, section 145.913; and provides local matching money to support the community health services as provided in Minnesota Statutes, section 145.921.

See Dickerson, Fundamentals, p. 182 and 183; Charrow and Erhardt, Clear and Effective Legal Writing, p. 101-103.

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13. Provisos

The phrase provided that often gives drafters a tool for gluing afterthoughts onto the end of a sentence. They should avoid it.

Example: (an unnecessary provided that)

The board may revoke a supervised release if the supervised person fails to enter a program; provided, however, that if no community program is available at the time of supervised release, the board may order the supervised person to enter the first available community program.

Example: (a clearer version, without provided that)

The board may revoke supervised release if the supervised person fails to enter a program. If no community program is available at the time of supervised release, the board may order the supervised person to enter the first available community program.


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14. Sentences within Sentences

Do not write lists in which sentences are attached to phrases or clauses.

For example, don't write:

Subd. 2. Excluded stock. "Excluded stock" for a brother-sister controlled group means:

(1) stock in a member corporation held by an employee's trust if the trust is for the benefit of the employees;

(2) stock in a member corporation owned by an employee of the corporation, but only if substantial limits or restrictions are imposed on the employee's right to dispose of the stock. A bona fide reciprocal stock repurchase arrangement is not considered one that restricts or limits the employee's right to dispose of the stock;

(3) stock in a member corporation that is held by a nonprofitable educational or charitable organization.

If only one item has an inserted sentence, you can move that item to the end of the list. That will solve the problem temporarily, but an amendment may add a new item and make the sentence an interrupter again. You can also move the sentence to a paragraph after the list and refer to the item that the sentence applies to: "In clause (2), a bona fide reciprocal stock repurchase arrangement is not considered one that restricts or limits the employee's right to dispose of the stock." That will add an internal reference and internal references should be minimized. You can turn the sentence into an independent clause by deleting the period and inserting a semicolon. The best solution is to turn your list of sentence parts into a list of sentences, so that the inserted sentence can be left next to the item it explains:

Subd. 2. Excluded stock. (a) "Excluded stock" for a brother- sister controlled group has the meanings given in this subdivision.

(b) It means stock in a member corporation held by an employee's trust if the trust is for the benefit of the employees.

(c) It means stock in a member corporation owned by an employee of the corporation, but only if substantial limits or restrictions are imposed on the employee's right to dispose of the stock. A bona fide reciprocal stock repurchase arrangement is not considered one that restricts or limits the employee's right to dispose of the stock.

(d) It means stock in a member corporation that is held by a nonprofitable educational or charitable organization.

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15. Parallel Form

When writing a series or list, be careful to keep similar ideas in similar, or "parallel," form. Sentences with parallel structure are easier to read and remember. Here is an example of what to avoid.

An applicant must not be hired who has any of the following conditions: blood pressure over 160/60, any communicable disease, or applicant not of good general health.

The key word is "conditions." "Applicant not of good general health" is not the name of a condition in the way that "blood pressure" and "disease" are. The last clause should be rewritten as "poor general health." Here is another example:

A person shall not drain, throw, or deposit upon the lands and waters within a state park any substance that would mare the appearance, create a stench, or destroy the cleanliness or safety of the park.

"Appearance," "cleanliness," and "safety" all go with "of the park," but "stench" doesn't. The sentence needs to be rearranged this way:

...anything that would mar the park's appearance, destroy its cleanliness or safety, or create a stench.

When you write a series or list, make sure that every item in it does the same job in the sentence.

See Child, Drafting Legal Documents, p. 41 and 211-215; and Charrow and Erhardt, Clear and Effective Legal Writing, p. 113-115.

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16. Modifiers

A modifier is a word or group of words that tells more about another word's meaning. In these examples, the modifiers are italicized:

--the escaped prisoner
--the executive officer of the county
--an order that has been signed by the governor
--an order signed by the governor
--a document stating the accused's name

Modifiers should appear right next to the words they modify. When they don't, sentences at best look silly and at worst look confusing, as in this rule:

The public school district or intermediary service area shall inform the nonpublic school of the type, level, and location of health services that are to be made available to the nonpublic school students by August 15.

Are services to made available by August 15, or is the district to inform the school by August 15?

The canon of construction known as the "rule of last antecedent" also involves modifiers and their positions. See section 2.6.

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17. "And" and "Or"

Normally and means that the items are to be taken together, and or means that one is to be chosen from the list. But these examples adopted from Reed Dickerson's Legislative Drafting show how a choice of and or or can depend on the wording of your items:

The security roll includes:

(1) each person who is 70 years of age or older;

(2) each person who is permanently, physically disabled; and

(3) each person who has been declared mentally incompetent.

The security roll includes each person who:

(1) is 70 years of age or older;

(2) is permanently, physically disabled; or

(3) has been declared mentally incompetent.

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18. Tables

Use tables when you need to present many numbers, as in appropriations, approved complements, and revisor's instructions. See those topics in other parts of this manual for examples. For guidance in setting up tables for easy reading, see Felker, et al., Guidelines for Document Designers, p. 95-98.

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19. Computations

Computations probably cause more headaches than any other feature of bills. In the standard phrasing for computations, the sentences are often long; they include long multiple conditions; they include references that block sentence flow and delay the arrival of the next sentence elements; they have long subordinate clauses that separate modifiers from the things they modify. Here is a relatively simple example:

If only a portion of the rent constituting property taxes is paid by these programs, the resident shall be a claimant for purposes of this chapter, but the refund calculated pursuant to section 290A.04 shall be multiplied by a fraction, the numerator of which is income as defined in subdivision 3 reduced by the total amount of income from the above sources other than vendor payments under the medical assistance program or the general assistance medical care program and the denominator of which is income as defined in subdivision 3 plus vendor payments under the medical assistance program or the general assistance medical care program, to determine the allowable refund pursuant to this chapter.

Drafters need a more readable way to describe computations. Reed Dickerson recommends the "cookbook" approach, that is, describing the steps, one by one, that produce the right figure. Here is part of Dickerson's own example:

The seller shall compute the price of any item that is packed in a new container type or size as follows:

(1) He shall first determine the most similar container type for which he has established a price for that product. From that container type he shall select the nearest size that is 50 percent or less larger than the new size, or if he has no such size, the nearest size that is 50 percent or less smaller. This is the base container.

(2) The seller shall take as his base price his price for the product when packed in the base container. If this price is a price delivered to any point other than the shipping point, he shall convert it to a price f.o.b. shipping point by deducting the transportation charges that are reflected in it.

The advantages of this method are short sentences, information delivered in small amounts, and active voice.

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20. Consistent Terms

Throughout your draft, use one term consistently to mean one thing. This rule seems easy to follow, but the following definition shows how thoroughly it can be broken:

...Unless the context clearly indicates a different meaning, "warehouse" may be used interchangeably with "elevator," "storage house," or "facility."

The same problem appears here:

Community water supplies which serve a population of 10,000 or more individuals...shall analyze for total trihalomethanes in accordance with this part,...Systems serving 75,000 or more individuals shall begin sampling and analysis not later than January 1, 1982.

Drafters make variations like these unconsciously. Variations often show up near the beginnings of sentences, which do not usually deliver new information and so get less of drafters' attention. To keep from varying your terms, choose one of the terms available, try to use it consistently, and check your draft or have someone else check it for variations, especially near sentence beginnings.


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21. Definitions

Definitions in statutes are problem-ridden, and the problems are of many kinds. They are often problems of legal substance; on that subject see Dickerson, Fundamentals, chapter 7. They can also affect readability. When the drafter ignores his or her own definitions, when the definitions do not clarify matters for the reader, or when the definitions are needless, they should be omitted. When definitions are hard to find or distant from the place where the terms are used, they make the reader do extra work. Use only the definitions you really need, and remember the definition when you use the term. If the term is used only in one section of the draft, define it in that section. Definitions of terms that are never used occur with surprising frequency. See section 4.5 of the manual; Mellinkoff, Legal Writing: Sense and Nonsense, p. 137; Redish, Beyond Readability, p. 16.

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22. Familiar Words


Use speaking vocabulary, not writing vocabulary, as much as you can without being slangy. The list below mentions some plainer alternatives to more formal words.

as toabout, concerning
commencebegin, start
deemconsider, judge
effect (as a verb)make, carry out, do
effectuatecarry out, do

For more complete lists see Dickerson, Fundamentals, p. 209-213; and Redish, How to Write Regulations, p. 250-251.

Use the lists, but remember the principle; prefer the most familiar words. It is not the length of the word that matters, but its formality and the proportion of the readers who will understand it.

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23. Verbose, Obsolete, or Vague Terms

These words are often unclear and nearly always unnecessary. Again, see Dickerson, Fundamentals, for complete lists.

Don't Use
all, any, each, every, some a, an, the
such, said, same a, an, the, it, that, them (or some other word or nothing)
above, aforesaid, aforementioned,
beforementioned, hereby, herein,
hereinafter, hereinbefore, herewith,
therefor, therein, thereinafter,
thereinbefore, thereof
Name a specific section or part
thereupon, whereupon when, at that time
to witnamely

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Replace wordy expressions with shorter substitutes. See Dickerson, Fundamentals, for complete lists.

Don't Use
absolutely null and void and
of no effect
adequate number ofenough
all of thethe
attains the age of 21 years becomes 21 years old
at the time, at such time as,
at the time as
at that (this) point in time then (now)
by means ofby
does not operate todoes not
due to the fact thatbecause
during such time aswhile
during the course ofduring
excessive number oftoo many
for the duration ofduring

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25. Overdrafting

Usually this manual tells you to be as specific as possible, but being specific does not mean naming every single thing you are forbidding or requiring.

This National Park Service rule has been called the classic example of trying to cover all the possibilities:

S 50.10 Trees, shrubs, plants, grass and other vegetation. (a) General injury. No person shall prune, cut, carry away, pull up, dig, fell, bore, chop, saw, chip, pick, move, sever, climb, molest, take, break, deface, destroy, set fire to, burn, scorch, carve, paint, mark, or in any manner interfere with, tamper, mutilate, misuse, disturb or damage any tree, shrub, plant, grass, flower, or part thereof, nor shall any person permit any chemical, whether solid, fluid, or gaseous, to seep, drip, drain or be emptied, sprayed, dusted or injected upon, about or into any tree, shrub, plant, grass, flower, or part thereof, except when specifically authorized by competent authority; nor shall any person build fires, or station, or use any tar kettle, heater, road roller or other engine within an area covered by this part in such a manner that the vapor, fumes, or heat therefrom may injure any tree or other vegetation.

The section demonstrates well how hard it is to name every act the draft is intended to forbid. Not only is the section wordy and difficult to read, it also has substantive problems. Using general terms - like "No one may harm the plants," - will probably give more legal protection than trying to list specific things. For a discussion of the dangers of overparticularity, see Child, Drafting Legal Documents, p. 165-169; also see section 2.6 of this manual and the discussion of the canons of construction.

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26. Jargon

Jargon has neutral and negative meanings. It refers to the useful technical vocabulary of a trade or profession, but it is also used for unclear expressions that have a technical ring. Real technical language can save time and space; if your audience understands it and expects it, then use it. Jargon-like terms created to dignify your subject are simply hard to read. Learn to recognize them and weed them out.

Use the words that ordinary people know. If the newspapers have been using the term "living wills," it is not helpful to readers, indexers, or librarians if the statute refers to the same documents as "adult health care decision declarations." Using ordinary terms simplifies not only reading but also indexing and electronic searching.

If you must create a general term, don't make it more general than necessary. Government writing is said to be full of "buzzwords," phrases that sound imposing but mean little. It is not hard to see why we write them since drafters often have to create names that cover broad classes. For example, the phrase "health care facility" in a bill might cover hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes.

To avoid creating buzzwords when you write broad terms, don't depend on abstract words like facility, entity, organization, and structure. Phrases like "regional channel entity," "entity operational structure," or parallel policy options" are meaningless unless the reader looks back at the definitions. Be as specific as possible. Don't call something a "programming entity" if you can call it a programming company. If certain boards grant licenses, don't call them "credentialing organizations;" call them licensing boards.

What if the jargon already exists in the law? Drafters are conservative by nature; they often repeat any language that works legally in order to avoid lawsuits. For example, the phrase "Flesch scale analysis readability score," which would horrify Dr. Flesch by its unreadability, was copied into Minnesota law from another state's draft. It is certainly not the clearest or briefest way to refer to the Flesch test. Let your guide be communication with your readers, and don't preserve bad wording unless you have a compelling legal reason. Consistency is valuable, but so is clarity.

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27. Noun Strings

A string of four or five nouns is hard to read because it masks the relationships between words. You may need more words in order to make their relationships clear, as these examples show:

Don't Use
electronic financial terminal
authorization application
application for the right to use an
electronic financial terminal
Flesch scale analysis readability
Flesch test score, or readability
score on the Flesch scale
early childhood program
alternative case loads
case loads for early childhood programs

See Charrow and Erhardt, Clear and Effective Legal Writing, 125-127; Felker, et al., Guidelines for Document Designers, p. 63-65.

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28. Initials

Initials are hard to read because they force a lay reader to go back to the definition section and to make repeated mental substitutions. A set of initials by itself gives no clue of what its meaning may be and, as more sets are used in laws, the same set or very similar sets are likely to be used for different phrases. If you don't want to write the phrase "large electric power generating plant" over and over, don't call it an LEPGP. Instead, define a short substitute like "large power plant" or just "plant."

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29. Nominal Style

Many verbs have related nouns; decide is related to decision; complain to complaint; speak to speech. An idea can often be expressed with either a verb or a related noun. For example, you can complain or make a complaint.

Writing that uses verbs (verbal style) is usually brief and clear. Writing that uses nouns (nominal style) can be too formal and wordy.

to implement pupil behavior
management techniques...
to manage pupils' behavior
established a contractual
relationship with...
contracted with
has knowledge or suspicion that... knows or suspects that...
make application forapply for
make payment forpay for
make provision forprovide for
upon X's request to Yif X asks Y
upon a determination by X that if X determines that

There are many other possibilities. The suffixes -ance, ancy, ant, ence, ency, ent, ion, and -ment often mark nouns derived from verbs, so check for nominal style whenever you see these suffixes.

Not all nominals, however, show how they are related to specific verbs. For example, "to have an adverse impact on the environment" could mean "to harm the environment" or "to disturb the environment" or any of a number of verbs. Nominals of this kind are harder to spot and correct, so learn to concentrate meaning in your verbs in the very first draft.

See Charrow and Erhardt, Clear and Effective Legal Writing, p. 125-127; Felker, Guidelines for Document Designers, p. 35-38.

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30. Gender-Neutral Language

There are many ways to avoid gender-specific nouns like workman or man-hours. The revisor's office has some standard substitutions developed for use during the gender project of 1986, which removed gender-specific language from the statutes. Other useful lists appear in The Nonsexist Word Finder by Rosalie Maggio.

Avoiding pronouns like he or she is much harder. Normal English word order begs for a pronoun in the main clause of a sentence like this: "If the commissioner finds that the sampling frequency may be safely reduced, he may order it reduced to the rate specified in subdivision 2." Not every method for avoiding pronouns works in every sentence. Consider the methods in the following order of preference.

Repeat the noun: "If the commissioner finds...the commissioner may order..." This is legally clear but can sound awkward when the two nouns are close together.

Use a relative clause: An applicant who has been licensed in another state must submit verification of licensure and the required fee.

Use a modifier without an expressed subject: Upon finding that the sampling frequency can be safely reduced, the commissioner may order it reduced as specified in clause (2).

Remove the nominal: A person who imports or possesses untaxed intoxicating liquor is guilty of a misdemeanor.

Use of he or she or his or her: The revisor has been asked by the legislature to avoid the use of these doubled pronouns which can be cumbersome.

Use the plural: Sections 150A.01 to 150A.12 do not apply to duly licensed physicians or surgeons unless they practice dentistry as a specialty.

Use the passive voice: After having been certified, the candidate may begin supervised clinical practice. But see section 10.7.


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